CALIFORNIA PRISONERS MAKE HISTORIC CALL FOR PEACE BETWEEN RACIAL GROUPS
Oakland—Prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) have announced a push to end all hostilities between racial groups within California’s prisons and jails. The handwritten announcement was sent to prison advocacy organizations. It is signed by several prisoners, identifying themselves as the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective. The Short Corridor refers to a section of Pelican Bay Prison’s notorious Security Housing Unit (SHU). Pelican Bay’s SHU was the point of origin for last year’s hunger strikes which rocked California’s prison system, at one point including the participation of nearly 12,000 prisoners in over 11 prisons throughout the state.
The statement calls for the cessation of all hostilities between groups to commence October 10, 2012, in all California prisons and county jails. “This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end,” the statement says. It also calls on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes. The Short Corridor Collective states, “If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues.” In the past, California prisoners have attempted to collaborate with the Department of Corrections to bring an end to the hostilities, but CDCR has been largely unresponsive to prisoners’ requests. The statement warns prisoners that they expect prison officials to attempt to undermine this agreement.
“My long-time experience in urban peace issues, gang truces, prevention and intervention, is that when gang leaders and prisoners take full stock of the violence, and how they can contribute to the peace, such peace will be strong, lasting, and deep. I honor this effort as expressed in this statement,” says Luis J. Rodriguez, renowned violence intervention worker and award-winning author of Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. Rodriguez has helped broker gang truces throughout the US as well as in other parts of the world. This spring, Rodriguez was involved in a historic truce between gangs in El Salvador leading to a 70% drop in violence in that country. According to Rodriguez, “What is needed now—and where most peace efforts fail—is the meaningful and long-lasting support of society and government, in the form of prison reform, training, education, drug and mental health treatment and proper health care. We need an end to repressive measures that only feed into the violence and traumas.”
Azadeh Zohrabi of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition sees the agreement as a positive development that stems from last year’s hunger strikes. “While living through some of the worst conditions imaginable, the authors of this statement continue to work for change,” states Zohrabi. “While the prison administration drags its feet on even the most basic reforms, these guys are trying to build peace throughout the system. That says a lot their humanity and hope.”
Advocates and the Short Corridor Collective are eager to spread the word as far and wide as possible and implement peace plans throughout California’s prisons and jails. “We must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention, and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners], and our best interests,” says the Collective. “The reality is that collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force, that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners, and thereby, the public as a whole.”
The PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective has strongly requested that its statement be read and referred to in whole. It can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/PBSP-declaration
For more information contact Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, 510.444.0484
MASE DECLARES NUCLEAR FREE ZONE
The Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE) has released a declaration for a Nuclear Free Zone in northwest New Mexico. The declaration connects the harmful impact on the environment associated with uranium mining with the infringement of the rights of indigenous peoples when their land is usurped for resource extraction. It reads, in part:
The War Resisters League National Office has provided funding and support for this initiative, which comes at a crucial juncture in the global debate about nuclear power. Within the U.S. government, politicians are reevaluating the status of the country's nuclear arsenal and the future of nuclear power projects. The combination of international pressure for disarmament and domestic unrest regarding the fiscal irresponsibility and unaccountability of government might coalesce into significant decreases in U.S.nuclear policy
In this context, grassroots efforts such as MASE's might bring about a much needed groundswell of support against the continuation of the nuclear status quo in the U.S.
COULD WE BE ABOUT TO SEE A "MINER SPRING"?
The five week wildcat strike at South Africa’s Marikana mine, owned by London-registered corporation Lonmin, ended last Wednesday with an important victory for the miners which increased wages by between 11% and 22%. However, the way that the dispute has stoked the fires of South Africa’s miners and brought attention to the shocking living and working conditions which they endure means that the trouble may only just be beginning for the giant mining corporations.
The strike, and the violent repression of the miners, has sent shockwaves through South African society and the global mining industry, and raised the prospect of a ‘miners’ spring’ as wildcat strikes have rapidly spread to mines belonging to other companies, including Anglo American Platinum (subsidiary of the British owned Anglo American), London Stock Exchange registered AngloGold Ashanti, and New York stock exchange listed Gold Fields.
Mining is South Africa’s biggest industry and makes billions of dollars in profits for corporations every year. However, the strike at Marikana has brought to light the grinding poverty and dangerous working conditions endured by those workers who toil to produce the wealth of the global mining industry. Many of the miners live in tin shacks which lack basic services, such as water, electricity and sewerage. Martin Hahn, a mining specialist at the International Labor Organization, has described how dangerous working conditions in South Africa’s mines often expose workers to falling rocks, dust, intensive noise, fumes and high temperatures. The victory of the Marikana miners serves as an example for hundreds of thousands of miners not just within South Africa’s borders but also beyond, as unfair treatment by mining corporations is increasingly questioned.
There has been much talk in the Western media of the damage which the strikes are doing to the corporations involved, with Lonmin arguing that it may have to default on payments and review the long-term sustainability of its operations. Nonetheless, even the most business-friendly observer will appreciate the irony of a company which had a turnover last year of $2 billion (based on its platinum mining operations in South Africa) pleading poverty, while media images show its workers living in squalid conditions and being gunned down live on national television. Meanwhile, global financial markets have acted to pressure the South African government to clamp down on the wave of strikes. The influential credit ratings agency Moody’s this week downgraded South African debt for the first time since apartheid, citing the government’s “reduced capacity to handle the current political and economic situation”, while the value of shares in Lonmin has fallen by 20% since the massacre.
The reaction of the mining corporations to workers’ protests has been one of threats and violence perpetrated by security forces protecting the companies’ interests. Even after the slaughter of 34 workers brought global sympathy for the miners’ cause and shone attention on the dispute, Lonmin threatened to fire 3000 workers if they didn’t return to work, and last week Anglo American (which made profits of $890 million from its platinum mines in South Africa last year) announced that it was seeking to have the strike at one of its mines near Rustenburg declared illegal, which would then allow it to fire any worker participating in the action. Meanwhile, strike leaders reported that another miner was killed at the same pit on 19 September after being run over by a police armored car during violent clashes between the police and striking workers.
However, it seems that the corporations’ hostile response will not be sufficient to quell the unprecedented wave of large scale workers’ resistance. Sidumo Dlamini, head of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, said last week, “What we see happening at Marikana and elsewhere is that workers are essentially demanding a living wage. Workers are simply saying, ‘We produce wealth and we want our reasonable share, and they expect to be given a fair share.’ This is a reflection of the demands being harbored by millions of our people.”
What really worries the corporations and the global financial markets is the prospect of the growing militancy of South African miners, in their demand for a living wage which allows them a dignified existence, spreading to other countries, in the same way that Tunisian protests set the spark for the Arab Spring last year. In a sign that industrial conflict could spread to the mining industry in neighboring Zambia, the Chinese administrator manager of the Chinese-owned Collum coal mine was killed by striking workers in another dispute over low pay in August. The Collum mine hit the news in October 2010 when Chinese managers shot and injured eleven protesting miners. The strikes spreading throughout South Africa’s mining sector may only represent the beginning of a snowball unleashed by the massacre of Marikana workers.
A version of this article originally appeared on WarOnWant.org
HIROSHIMA SURVIVORS VISIT ISRAEL, CALL FOR NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
For one week beginning on September 10, survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima visited Israel through the Hibakusha Peace Boat Project. The project is a civil society initiative providing a platform for the survivors to travel around the world and tell their personal stories about the effects of atomic bombs.
The trip to Israel was organized in collaboration with the Israeli Disarmament Movement (IDM), an initiative comprised of an NGO, Regional Peace and Disarmament Movement, and a grassroots campaign called According to Foreign Sources. The latter name is a reference to the fact that, despite the well-known open secret that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, the discourse within Israel around these weapons is that their existence is alleged only “according to foreign sources.” The IDM calls for Israel, one of only four non-signatories, to abide by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The visit was timed while tensions are high between Israel and Iran. Israel on the one hand is ostensibly concerned about Iran's nuclear program, while Iran and other states in the Middle East are concerned for their security with Israel as the sole regional nuclear power. Amid this political climate, the Hiroshima survivors held a protest in Jerusalem calling for worldwide disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons. The Japanese visitors also made a trip to Israel's Holocaust Museum, where they expressed similar concerns to Holocaust survivors about forgetting past injustices and the horrors of war.
PLOWSHARES ACTIVIST SISTER ANNE MONTGOMERY
“My name is Anne Montgomery; my life spent in community with women. I bring their healing power to this factory of carnage and of death.” This is a line from folksinger Charlie King’s “The Hammer Has to Fall” that has been running through my head for weeks now. You will not hear it on the radio or iTunes, just like you won’t read a tribute to Sister Anne Montgomery, RSCJ in the New York Times. But, her life is no less momentous for being lived outside the glare of mainstream media and popular culture.
Anne Montgomery was born in San Diego on November 30, 1926. Her father was a Rear Admiral in the US Navy. She entered the Society of the Sacred Heart in Albany in 1948, professed first vows in 1951 and final vows in 1956 in Rome. As a nun, she taught in East Harlem, working with high school dropouts. She developed a life-long relationship with the Catholic Worker and Pax Christi, two lay movements where she could pray for peace and work for justice. She was one of the original Plowshares activists and spent years in prison for her commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons. She died on August 27, 2012 after a long battle with cancer.
Sister Anne was already in her 50s in 1980 when she and seven others (including this writer’s father and uncle) entered the King of Prussia General Electric plant and hammered on Mark 12-A nose cones with household tools, pouring their blood over weapons designed and manufactured to shed blood all over the world. This action was the first of hundreds of Plowshares actions-- nonviolent disarmament actions at nuclear weapons facilities around the world. The most recent took place in Oak Ridge, TN at the Highly Enriched Uranium Facility this summer and involved Anne’s friends Sister Megan Rice and Catholic Workers Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli.
Sister Anne was part of six Plowshares witnesses and spent years in prison as a consequence. She wrote of that first action: “We begin our process with community prayers, reflection, and decision making… To make our prayer and action one, to reach out to the ‘other' in a personal way, requires that we emphasize depth and relationship rather than numbers and high-powered organization... In such communities we can learn the true meaning of ‘conspiracy': ‘breathing together' the Spirit of life and being formed by it into people faithful to the covenant of love - the law written in our hearts.”
She felt real freedom as a “woman religious,” without the responsibilities of family or career. Liz McAlister, plowshares activist and co-founder of Jonah House (and this writer’s mother) wrote that Anne work’s “was the fruit of years of reflecting on the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Anne lived that prophetic, educational mission with courage and grace, whatever side of the prison walls she inhabited for more than 30 years. She was not just about abolishing weapons; she graced each space with a spirit of compassion. She again and again said: ‘Who’s going to do this if we don’t … If anyone should take risks, it should be [nuns and priests].’” Anne’s commitment to peace and nonviolence led her beyond U.S. boundaries to minister in war-torn areas around the world. As a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams she served as a witness to peace in Iraq, the West Bank, and the Balkans. She was among the protesters who undertook a month-long liquids-only fast in 2000 aimed at ending U.S. support for the deadly United Nations sanctions against Iraq. In 2005, Anne walked to and held a vigil near the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo with 24 others (including this writer) in an attempt to visit the men detained there. For the rest of her life she remained committed to the work of Witness Against Torture, a group calling for the closing of Guantanamo and an end to the U.S. practice of torture.
In a letter to friends a few months before her death, Sister Anne wrote: “I know that the Spirit prays at the heart of the universe and that creation is an ongoing journey of death and resurrection, however mysterious that process is. Because it is energized by Love, we can enter into it rather than count on our own weak efforts and vulnerabilities and worry about failures... I am constantly filled with gratitude to you all who have done the nitty-gritty work of peace and nonviolent action and invited me to join you.”
We continue that work, energized and inspired by Anne’s life.
- Frida Berrigan